Nationalist candidate Mark Anthony Sammut tells MIRIAM DALLI how the PN believes in the individual’s ability to reach higher… and wants to empower him to do so.
What is your background?
I'm a young 26-year-old hailing from the small village of Gudja. I graduated as an engineer in 2008 and I've worked with a private telecommunications company since then, also reading for an MSc through distance-learning with the Queen Mary University of London. I have also been a local councillor in my locality on behalf of the Nationalist Party for the past seven years.
How did you get involved in politics?
I've always been involved in a number of voluntary sports and youth organisations, and accepting to contest the local council election seven years ago was a continuation of my active participation in civil society. Even though I was the only councillor on behalf of my party, I learned to work co-operatively and effectively even with councillors from a rival party, and I managed to achieve results in the sectors I was entrusted to work in.
Eventually, I understood that politics is the best tool to improve society and people's lives. I have actively participated in a number of general councils and discussions, and when I was asked by the Prime Minister to contest the upcoming general election, I accepted and entered this new experience in a spirit of service and a continuation of my active participation in society.
My choice is the PN because the PN respects my choices. It is the party which believes that the individual should be empowered to make his own choices to improve his life and progress as he or she best deems fit. My generation found a myriad of opportunities to study what we want, become what we want, and get the help and backing needed to keep moving forward and reach our aspirations irrespective of our social, political or economic background. It is the party that believes in the individual's ability to reach higher, and wants to empower him to do so.
What will you bring to the table?
As an engineer, I come from a field of work where we are continuously required to find the root causes of problems and address them through logic, reason and study. I think I can bring an element of science and analysis in the way we shape our policies. Apart from that, my interests also vary from being a musician and an avid sportsman, and I am ready to contribute in any area I am asked to.
If elected, what will you be pushing for?
For more youth activism in civil society, an improved educational curriculum which better prepares students to grasp the opportunities available in post-secondary studies, more promotion of sports in all ages, and achieving sustainability in our elementary resources, mainly water, energy and the environment.
The PN seems to be in no rush to kick-start its campaign for the 9 March elections. What should the electorate make of this?
Eight weeks is a long campaign. The PN is focused on the best policies to achieve the next leap of quality. And then it all depends on what you mean by kick-starting a campaign. A campaign characterised by theatrics and money squandering, while admittedly being appealing from a marketing point of view, will not really make much difference in people's lives once it's over. The PN is intent on focusing on the substance.
You have appeared on the media several times to defend the PN's track record in the energy sector. Do believe it was government's best decision to opt for heavy fuel oil instead of gas? How would you rate government's work in the renewable energy sector?
I think it was the best decision in the circumstances. To opt for gas, you need the infrastructure - either storage tanks together with an LNG terminal or a gas pipeline. All studies available to government showed that it was more feasible to wait for an EU-funded gas pipeline than invest in an LNG terminal which would have taken four years to build and which would have been used for just a few years until the pipeline was commissioned, and on which you would need to recoup the capital investment. The choice for an HFO power station which can be converted to gas, and which complies with all EU Directives on air emissions, has allowed government to start switching off the Marsa Power Station - which will be switched off completely once the interconnector is commissioned next year - while allowing the same plant to be used with gas once the gas pipeline is commissioned.
Though we are still trailing behind other EU countries in the renewable energy sector, many schemes have been offered which have allowed people and businesses to reduce their electricity consumption. Even waste has started being used to generate electricity, again through EU funds that the PL fought against. Of course, more needs to be done in the next years, and government has already proposed a number of initiatives including solar farms and the use of more roofs of government buildings for this purpose.
As a young politician, what do you think are the concerns of young people? Do you think that resorting to 'politics of fear' leaves an impression on them?
I think the main concerns of young people are education and job opportunities, and the PN has a very positive track record in both. Today young people are not only given scholarship to pursue post-secondary studies, but also to improve in the arts and sports. MCAST is doing a good job in vocational training, and ETC is offering lots of courses to improve basic skills. We also have Europe's highest rate of graduates who find employment. But more initiatives to help youngsters enter the workforce and gain entrepreneurial skills have been announced in the budget and will surely feature in the PN's electoral programme.
I do not think the 'politics of fear' impresses youngsters much. In fact the big majority of them were in favour of the EU while Muscat was trying to convince them that it is the 'cross of the millennium'.
What is your stand on privatisation? The Nationalist government has privatised various sectors, including the Malta International Airport, Sea Malta and Drydocks while it liberalised MaltaPost. Yet, you oppose the partial privatisation of the energy sector. Why?
As much as I am in favour of privatisation, I think it should only apply in the context of a free market and not to monopolies, especially in such an essential commodity like energy. The PL's plan is not a Public-Private Partnership. It is an agreement which will tie government to purchase all the energy generated by this private investor for the next 25 years, losing all the benefits of cheap energy during the night through the interconnector. It is a monopoly grant.
The other privatised sectors are a different story. The MIA for example, competes in the European and Mediterranean market with other airports. It is in its own interest to attract more airlines, more tourists, and turn itself into a regional hub. And even there, government retained a number of shares. The energy sector and the type of agreement proposed by Labour is a completely different story. It puts a commodity which the country cannot live without at the mercy of a private investor.
The PN is portraying itself as an inclusive party that does not intrude in people's personal lives; by electing Simon Busuttil as its deputy leader the PN is trying to deliver home the message that it is a renewed party. Is this just an image? If not, what are the PN's electoral proposals that reflect this?
Legislation allowing civil partnerships, increasing the disability pension and more care for disabled people and the elderly in the community are a few of the PN proposals that tangibly show its inclusion policy.